Vandals’ Brantley enjoys new perspective

UPDATED: Sat., April 8, 2017, 8:37 p.m.

Idaho Vandals running back Denzal Brantley (24) celebrates after he scored a touchdown against New Mexico State in a game last season at the Kibbie Dome. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

Denzal Brantley approached University of Idaho coaches about a position change from offense to defense after last season. Saturday, he got behind the wheel as a safety and took the position out for a spin in the Vandals’ first spring scrimmage.

It looks to be a sweet ride.

It was one of several good things Coach Paul Petrino saw in the workout. “The linebackers stood out,” he said. The tackling in general met his approval. Identifying offensive line depth is a spring goal, and Petrino singled out Sandpoint freshman Carlos Collado III as a standout newcomer. “He’s doing a great job.” Running backs Isaiah Saunders and Aaron Duckworth also caught Petrino’s attention in a good way.

Redshirt freshman Cade Coffey and sophomore Sam Fenlason both worked at kicker and punter, vying to replace graduated Austin Rehkow. Coffey helped his case by launching impressive back-to-back 50-yard plus punts that rocketed toward the Kibbie Dome roof.

Brantley’s day was highlighted by intercepting a deep throw by sophomore quarterback Mason Petrino. He laid a forceful hit on Jante Boston after a catch near the goal line. He was a consistent tackler throughout the two-hour workout, and when senior quarterback Matt Linehan looked left, more often than not he found Brantley and cornerback Lloyd Hightower had locked down that side of the field.

As for Linehan completing a pass to Jacon Sannon, who dipped a shoulder and was able to freeze Brantley long enough to gain extra yardage, well, spring is for working out things like that.

Brantley likes the view from the defensive backfield.

“I do. I’m getting real comfortable with it. I’m enjoying it.” As for the way he and Hightower have meshed so quickly, “we’re communicating real well,”Brantley said.

Saunders’ grin suggests Brantley on defense is still like seeing something as incongruous as a duck carrying a briefcase.

“Every time I see him, it’s just funny. He’s really playing defense now.”

They had some good natured speculation about a future meeting this spring. Saunders might still have the advantage there. He ran hard the entire scrimmage, and his several touchdowns included a play where he looked inside, bounced out to the right and won a race to the corner to score.

Only one player was forced to leave with an injury. Wide receiver Reuben Mwehla watched the conclusion of the scrimmage with ice packs on his right knee and ankle after making a catch and absorbing a twisting hit from linebacker Ed Hall.

Petrino’s son, Mason, alternated with Linehan at quarterback, also worked in the receiver rotation and joined Linehan in the backfield for one play.

“He’s a grinder, a coach’s kid. I can understand it,” said Linehan, the son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. He said of Petrino’s heavy workload Saturday “he just goes out and plays. It’s a little different being a coach’s son. He’s handled it really well.”